CHICAGO (CBS) — The attorney for a 38-year-old man fatally shot by a Chicago police officer last week said he hopes the family’s wrongful death lawsuit against the city sparks fundamental change at the department.
In an exclusive interview with WBBM Newsradio, civil rights attorney Andrew Stroth said “the world is watching” Chicago.
“The home of President Obama, who is in town tomorrow; and now, over the past few years, the home of Laquan McDonald and that tragedy,” he said.
Jose Nieves was shot and killed on Jan. 2 by an off-duty transit officer in the 2500 block of North Lowell. Nieves’ sister, Angelica, said he was moving furniture with his girlfriend at the time.
Police have said the officer was visiting the neighborhood and somehow got into a verbal argument with the victim, that escalated into several shots being fired on the street.
Stroth said the shooting has left Nieves’ family stunned and heartbroken as they prepare for his funeral on Monday, a week after his death.
“They will tell you that that officer took away their life. That officer killed their son and their brother, and he has – based on what the mother has said – destroyed their lives,” Stroth said.
Police have acknowledged Nieves did not have a weapon, and the 57-year-old officer who shot him has been stripped of his police powers amid ongoing investigations by the Internal Affairs Division and the Independent Police Review Authority.
Hours after the shooting, Police Supt. Eddie Johnson has said he had “a lot more questions than answers” about the shooting. He acknowledged the officer and Nieves were involved in a confrontation a few weeks before the shooting.
Nieves’ family has filed a federal lawsuit against the city and the officer, identified in court papers as Lowell Houser. The lawsuit does not offer details of the fatal shooting, but alleges “Houser illegally detained and threatened to arrest and physically harm” Nieves on the morning of the shooting.
“Without cause or provocation, Defendant Officer Lowell Houser shot Jose Angel Felipe Nieves to death,” the lawsuit alleges.
The lawsuit also alleges the Chicago Police Department was warned Houser “had illegally detained and threatened to arrest and physically harm” Nieves on one or more occasion before the shooting.
“The family is seeking fundamental and transformative change within the Chicago Police Department. Their son, their brother was killed for no reason by a man who was operating with his police powers.”
Angelica Nieves said the same officer who killed her brother had pulled a gun on him in the past.
A Chicago police department spokesperson told CBS 2 that police were called to Jose Nieves’ home on Dec. 11 for an alleged assault he was committing. At the time, Nieves told police that a man who identified himself as a Chicago police officer pointed a gun at him. Internal Affairs was trying to determine if that officer was the same one who fatally shot Nieves. A department spokesperson could not say if Nieves had been charged with a crime after that December police call.
Nieves’ family members also believe the confrontation might have had something to do with one of the officer’s family members, but police said they could not confirm that.
Stroth said the officer – a 28-year veteran of the department – has been the subject of a number of investigations.
“After 28 years, and you have a history of complaints – citizens’ complaints – and you’re allowing this person to operate with full police powers, and carrying a service revolver, it goes back to who are the people on our police force who are hired to serve and protect? Clearly the city was on notice this was not a good person, not a good officer, and not someone that was serving and protecting,” he said.
According to the Chicago Tribune, Houser has been the focus of 20 disciplinary investigations since the 1990s.
Stroth said the family wants to see significant changes to the culture within the police department.
“They have filed this federal lawsuit, and their objective is to get justice, and help create change within the current atmosphere within the Chicago Police Department,” he said.
Stroth said he is confident Johnson wants to do the right thing, given how quickly the superintendent moved to strip Houser of his police powers.
“He is making moves to try to fix and transform the department, and I think the reaction was appropriate,” Stroth said.
WBBM has reached out to the Chicago Police Department for its reaction to Stroth’s comments.